Last year, Luke Dunstan made something from nothing.
While rehabilitating a torn pectoral muscle in St Kilda’s Queensland hub, he decided to venture into the coaching ranks.
He joined the men’s side’s midfield coach, Ben McGlynn, in scouting the opposition and working on centre bounce strategy.
Now, Dunstan is taking on a level two coaching course, and assisting women’s midfield coach Dave Carden through the AFLW season.
“I’ve been throwing in some ideas for training, and then match days as well, I’ve been sitting on the bench helping the girls out with a bit of direct feedback as they come off,” the 26-year-old said.
“[Head coach Peta Searle] has just told me to give them any feedback that I see, and the girls will love it.”
The team’s openness to feedback is consistent with their willingness to learn, a factor the women’s team excels at when compared to the men, a jocular Dunstan said.
“I can’t speak highly enough of how they just want to learn. A bit different to the boys, they actually listen to their coaches,” he said with a laugh.
“I haven’t really worked closely with the girls in previous years, but I think you can see from just watching some of the games that have been played this year, they’re definitely improving.
“I think a big part of that comes from their willingness to learn and want to improve and get feedback from coaches.”
St Kilda’s talented youth — who have benefitted from stronger pathways through the junior ranks — have caught Dunstan’s eye this season.
“Naturally you can see they’re more advanced in reading the play and that sort of thing, so I think the more years go on with the girls that have come through the junior ranks, it’ll make a big difference,” he said.
One Saint exemplifying this is Georgia Patrikios.
Drafted with pick No.5 in the 2019 draft, the classy midfielder burst onto the scene and claimed St Kilda’s best and fairest, the AFL Players’ best first-year player, and a spot in the AFLPA 22under22 team.
And she reminds Dunstan of another St Kilda young gun.
“She reminds me a bit of Hunter Clark from the boys’ side,” he said.
“Everything slows down around her; she’s got heaps time and is a really good decision-maker, so she’s only going to get better.
“Obviously from watching her on TV you don’t really get to know her much on a personal level, but she’s pretty laid back and easy going, which is cool to see.”
With a raft of up-and-coming stars continuing to emerge from junior pathways into the AFLW, Dunstan now has a front-row seat to the competition’s growth, and believes its critics are being soundly silenced.
“In another three or four years’ time, they’re going to have improved so much again, so those critics, I think, will be shutting their mouths,” Dunstan said.
“It’s awesome for them, they’ll be able to see how much they’ve improved since the time they came into the competition.”